What’s it like?
There’s virtually no noise when you press the illuminated start button and you only have to pull the (disappointingly awkward and clunky) shift lever into ‘D’ mode to make a silent getaway.
The smooth torque of the electric motors does a surprisingly good job of disguising the Volt’s 1715kg kerb weight. However, like the Prius, the Chevy seems to encourage the driver to flow along gently, rather than to push on.
This is probably a combination of the steady swell of torque, lack of gear changes, the silence of the drivetrain and the dash graphic counting down the distance to discharge.
Even under reasonable acceleration on the local freeways, the Volt’s battery-driven drivetrain mode remains relaxed and refined. There’s none of the audible strain of the racing engine and CVT ‘box that can blight the Prius.
When the battery is dead, the Volt can pull away on battery’s buffer store and then the engine cuts very quietly at around 20mph to power-up the motor/generator. Only under hard acceleration above, say, 50mph is the engine properly audible. It’s not noisy, but it’s not the most engaging sound either.
On the arrow-straight roads of rural Michigan, it was hard to establish whether the Volt has a spark of enthusiasm for being driven briskly, but what we did experience didn’t bode well.
The steering suffers from nearly a quarter of a turn of light and feel-less response (likely to be partly tyre-related). On Michigan’s hideously broken concrete roads, the Volt suffered from very intrusive bump-thump, though the ride was actually pretty good.
Otherwise it has a very quiet cabin (making front and rear conversation easy) and left me quite refreshed after a few hours at the wheel. Overall, the Volt is easy, fluid and breezy as befits a car tuned entirely for frugality.
Styling-wise, while the Volt’s filmically futuristic exterior is neatly executed, it’s the interior ambience that really impresses.
The cabin – a strict four-seater because the battery intrudes in the shape of a large centre tunnel – is wonderfully light and airy, with a fine view forward through the front doors and windscreen, as well as rearwards, over the driver’s shoulder. The loadbay’s big too, and completely flat with the individual rear seats folded down.
The dashboard layout successfully embraces the Volt’s clean-sheet running gear, using two LCD screens, which deliver a myriad of graphic information. Perhaps most useful are the live representations of the driver’s driving style and use of the climate control system and their subsequent effect on fuel consumption. The console uses a flat, touch-sensitive surface rather than individual buttons.
Should I buy one?
While the Volt has crawled from the wreckage of GM as an extremely innovative and complete machine, there are big question marks over this type of car.
It is very expensive for what amounts to a car that can travel, pollution-free, for around 40 miles using admittedly inexpensive domestic electricity. For many regular commuters, they will probably never use the engine in anger. In petrol/generator mode on the motorway, however, the Volt will probably only return around 40-45mpg.
For European buyers, a diesel-powered Astra will be much cheaper to buy, better to drive and probably more economical. Further down the road, the refining of conventional technology, such as the upcoming 78mpg Mazda 2, show that cars like the Volt will only play a small role in the greening of the mainstream car.
But anyone who is enthusiastic about the car industry should rejoice that the Volt exists. It is an extremely clever and remarkably well-thought machine and a credit to a company that managed to develop it while undergoing a bankruptcy that reverberated around the world.
Price: £25,000 (est, including £5000 gov rebate); 0-62mph: 8.9sec; Top Speed: 100mph; Economy: up to 50 miles on one battery charge plus 41.1mpg (est) average on engine/generator; CO2 emissions: na; Kerb weight: 1715kg; Engine layout: Four cylinder, 1398cc, petrol; electric drive motor, electric generator motor; Battery: 16 kWh, lithium-ion; Power: 147bhp; Torque: 273lb ft; Gearbox: Two ratio, planetary gear set